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Tag Archives: Kris Swanberg

Filmmaker Interview: Kris Swanberg

unexpected

Last fall I had the great pleasure of hosting Kris Swanberg at Oakton Community College’s Pop-Up Film Fest where her second feature film, Empire Builder, was the inaugural screening. I posted a transcript of our post-screening Q&A on this site not long afterwards. At the time, Kris was busy editing her third feature, Unexpected, which would win raves upon its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January. This pregnancy drama, based on Kris’s own experiences, is beautifully written, directed and acted and integrates issues of gender, class and race so naturally that one is likely to not even notice until reflecting on it afterwards. Unexpected is being distributed by the Film Arcade and opens locally at the Music Box this Friday. I recently chatted with Kris about her new film by phone, which makes her White City Cinema’s first two-time interviewee. (Please note that a heavily edited version of this interview has also been posted at Time Out Chicago.)

MGS: So are you in the midst of a whirlwind media tour right now?

KS: I’m not, luckily. We did a lot of our press already in New York at the BAM screening. And they’re – because I can’t travel anymore because I’m pregnant…

MGS: Yes, congratulations!

KS: Thank you! I think they did a lot of those interviews and are holding them until closer to the release. And then everything I’ve just been sort of doing by phone and it’s not that bad.

MGS: The publicist for your film told me you were several months pregnant…

KS: I’m very… I’m due in three weeks.

MGS: Wow, so soon. That’s incredible. I feel the need to ask right off the bat, was this “expected?”

KS: (laughing) Actually, yeah, it was. I mean, you never really know but, yeah, it was not unexpected, I’ll put it that way.

MGS: So now you can make a sequel?

KS: That’s right.

MGS: I saw your film back-to-back with Results and I thought that was a great way to see both of those films — because Cobie Smulders is terrific in both and her performances couldn’t have been more different. Did you feel it was fortuitous that both films premiered at the same time at Sundance?

KS: Yeah, it was cool. I really like Results and I have known Andrew Bujalski for a really long time. So I was kind of excited that we had the same actress. And Cobie hasn’t done any sort of indie stuff and then, all of a sudden, she’s in two movies in Sundance. So, yeah, she’s such a great actress and it was exciting for me to see her do something different at the same time.

MGS: In your own film?

KS: No, in Andrew’s. I didn’t have much experience with her as a fan. I didn’t really watch the show (How I Met Your Mother). I’d seen a few episodes just for her performance. But, you know, her performance in my own film is of course what I know the best, what she can do. And then it was really neat to see Results at Sundance and see her play a very different character. She’s amazing.

MGS: It’s rare to see films that take pregnancy as a subject. And that’s really surprising in a way because it’s obviously such a common occurrence . . .

KS: I know, I know, I know. Just think of all the movies we have about, I don’t know, relationships or people robbing… (laughs) It’s kind of crazy — because everyone has been born — that we don’t have more movies about pregnancy. And what’s even crazier is that we have few to no movies about a woman’s experience during pregnancy.

MGS: Do you think that’s because there are so few films made by women?

KS: Absolutely, no contest. That is the reason. And the reason why I know that’s the reason is because I made this movie about pregnancy not realizing that it was from my point-of-view. Just like a man, you know, wouldn’t realize that he’s writing it from his point-of-view. You know what I mean? It’s just like, of course, the most natural way to go about it, to write from your point-of-view. Most films about pregnancy are from the point-of-view of a man looking at his wife and thinking, “Oh, she’s going crazy. What do I do?” All of that stuff, it’s usually pretty funny. You know, the delivery scene tends more towards comedy. Not that I have a super-dramatic, heavy film but I definitely took some of that stuff more seriously. I think I was careful with those emotions in a way that, you know, a stupid comedy isn’t.

MGS: It’s funny in the way that life is funny. You’re not writing jokes.

KS: Right.

MGS: There’s been a lot of discussion in the media about the lack of female voices in cinema. When you created this film did you think of yourself as having a responsibility…

KS: No. I didn’t think about it at all. I didn’t think about the fact that I was a woman making it. I didn’t think about the fact that it was a woman in a lead role and another woman in a secondary role. I didn’t think about it at all. It just never crossed my mind. When men are writing movies and directing movies I don’t think they’re consciously leaving women out of these movies. I think they’re just writing from their own experience. And that was what I was doing, writing from what I know, which is being a woman. I never once took any kind of political stance and thought, “Oh, I’m making a movie from the woman’s point-of-view finally.” It just sort of naturally happened. And then I didn’t realize that it was unique until I started pre-production. I was watching other films as references, and sort of looking at other films dealing with pregnancy to see, you know, “How do they shoot a delivery scene? How do they shoot an ultrasound scene?” And then not only did we not really use any of that, but I also realized, “Oh, this is a different kind of movie that doesn’t exist.”

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MGS: I appreciated your depiction of Chicago as a multi-racial society, which is also rare. It’s common to see films with predominantly white casts or predominantly black casts but you made a film about interracial friendship that feels very true.

KS: The movie is based a lot on personal experience and my own experience as a high-school teacher on the West Side here. So those relationships, even while I was having them, when I was a teacher and then after I was done teaching when I was still in touch with my students, I realized at the time how unique they were. Not so much for the racial component because I think, at least in our urban liberal world of Chicago, it’s fairly common for people to have friends of another race. And I certainly have friends of other races and it’s not worth making a movie about. (laughs) The reason why is because they’re of the same economic… the same social class as me. So our lives are very culturally similar. Of course, there’s differences with race and how we’re brought up and how we experience the world, etc. But it’s not nearly the difference between… the class difference that exists between Samantha and Jasmine (Gail Bean). That was what was really unique to me. People have relationships with other people of different classes but they’re usually, you know, “This person works in the same building as me.” Or “This is the cashier behind the counter that I get my coffee at every morning.” They’re usually on a professional level. They rarely get intimate. I think that’s what the real difference was with that relationship (in the film).

MGS: Right. I think you made a lot of subtle points in the movie about class divisions and I was wondering if you were ever afraid that Sam was going to come across as a stereotypical “white savior” character.

KS: Yeah, I was really conscious of that. But I felt the solution was, and it was something my co-writer (Megan Mercier) and I talked about a lot, was to make the movie very self-aware – and it is. And so (Sam) has assumptions about Jasmine’s world and that’s brought up very subtly in the film. At one point she asks her, “What did your boyfriend say when you told him you were pregnant? Was he mad?” And Jasmine’s like, “Why would he be mad?” And there’s a few moments like that where you realize the film is aware of that sort of movie trope. And we have this weird history in our modern cinema of these white ladies going into these schools and making everyone fall in love with Shakespeare or whatever. So I didn’t want to do that but because it was coming from my own personal experience as a teacher, I felt confident that I could portray it realistically and not (have it) be a stereotype.

MGS: Because if you kept it true to your experience you would naturally sidestep that pitfall?

KS: Right.

MGS: I think another great example of that is early on when Sam asks Jasmine if she’s going to keep her baby and Jasmine says she doesn’t know. And then later, Jasmine asks Sam the same question and Sam looks surprised, almost like she can’t believe Jasmine would even ask her that question. I felt like you were being critical of Sam’s assumption.

KS: Definitely. I was critical throughout the whole film! Not in a bad way but I was very conscious of that stuff. When she’s making those assumptions she’s not being racist, she’s not being a bad person. She’s very well intentioned in being her best but when you’re unfamiliar with a culture or community, those are the kinds of assumptions that you have so I wanted to point that out.

MGS: Thanks for talking to me, good luck with the new baby and I greatly look forward to seeing your future work.

KS: Thanks a lot.

You can check out the trailer for
Unexpected via YouTube below:

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Cobie Smulders Double Feature at the Music Box / Cool Apocalypse in the Press

RESULTS

This review of new films by Andrew Bujalski and Kris Swanberg appeared in this week’s Time Out Chicago. I’m re-running my original piece here (i.e., without the cuts my editor imposed to get it down to an arbitrary length of 250 words):

While Cobie Smulders is best known for her roles as Robin Scherbatsky on How I Met Your Mother and Maria Hill of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she is also in the process of successfully reinventing herself as a leading lady in quality independent films. Smulders became something of an indie “It Girl” when two such films, Kris Swanberg’s Unexpected and Andrew Bujalski’s Results, had world premieres at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Both movies receive their local premieres at the Music Box Theater this Saturday, May 2, as part of the third annual Chicago Critics Film Festival. Each movie is well worth your time—with the added bonus that Smulders will be on hand for a Q&A after each.

With Results, Andrew Bujalski follows up his astonishing retro-‘80s Altmanesque comedy Computer Chess with a wildly different though equally masterful Austin-based comedy set in the world of personal training. Danny (Kevin Corrigan), an out-of-shape stoner — and, thanks to an inheritance, new millionaire — wanders into a gym and ends up playing unlikely matchmaker to emotionally stunted gym-owner/fitness guru Trevor (Guy Pearce) and volatile trainer Kat (Smulders). What a joy it is to watch these three actors play against type and deliver their sharply-written dialogue with such crack comic timing while also observing a narrative arc that takes the most circuitous (i.e., least formulaic) approach to its inevitable destination. I can’t recall seeing a recent American movie capture the spirit of classic screwball comedy as well as this. Results is Preston Sturges–level great.

Similarly, Unexpected is a breath of fresh air in a cinematic landscape currently oversaturated with plot-driven films. Local director Kris Swanberg seems destined to find the wider audience she deserves with this semi-autobiographical character-based drama about Sam (Smulders), a 30-year-old CPS high-school science teacher who finds out she is pregnant at the same time as one of her students, 17-year old Englewood-resident Jasmine (Gail Bean). The two women, so different in age, race and class, end up forming an unlikely bond in a series of delicate, beautifully observed scenes brimming with psychological and sociological insights. A low-key but bracingly female-centric film about emotionally forthright characters, Unexpected is an unexpected gem.

You can find the complete lineup of the Chicago Critics Film Festival, along with tickets and showtimes, on their official website.

julie

Also, my feature film, Cool Apocalypse, a still of which can be seen above, will receive its world premiere at the Illinois International Film Festival tomorrow, and has been in the press this week: Chicago-based filmmaker and blogger Julian Grant has given us our first official review (and it’s positive!) on his website and I also spoke with Legendary Lew Ojeda about the film on his Mediatrocities podcast. Hope to see some of you at the premiere!


Filmmaker Interview: Kris Swanberg

Last October I programmed a pop-up film festival at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, Illinois. The inaugural screening was Kris Swanberg’s Empire Builder, a terrific slow-burn drama starring Kate Lyn Sheil as an alienated mother and housewife who travels with her infant son from Chicago to rural Montana for a vacation at her family’s cabin. Imagine a 70-minute microbudget version of Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman and you’ll have some idea of both the creepiness and impressive formal qualities that Swanberg offers up in her assured second feature. The following interview took place in Oakton’s Footlik Theater in front of a live audience. Because Kris was running late, I literally met her for the first time onstage for our talk.

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MGS: And here comes the writer and director of the wonderful movie you just saw. Please give a warm welcome to Kris Swanberg! Hi!

KS: Hi! I tried to call you.

MGS: That’s all right. I don’t get cell phone service in here. The film just ended about 10 minutes ago and I was taking questions. I said I couldn’t presume to answer for you. (To audience) I’ve never met Kris before. (laughs) So have a seat and we’ll chat.

KS: Okay, great. Sorry I’m late, you guys. I got confused on the campus here.

MGS: That’s quite all right. It’s like a labyrinth. It took me a few years to figure out my way around. So you’re editing a new film?

KS: Yeah, I just wrapped a feature (Unexpected). Do you guys know who Cobie Smulders is? You guys know that show How I Met Your Mother? She’s the lead in my new movie. We just shot it for 20 days in Chicago and we just wrapped October 6th, so I’ve just been editing that for a couple weeks now. I’m sort of in the trenches and I’m trying to make that movie good. (laughs)

MGS: Excellent. How close are you to completion?

KS: That is a good question. I do not know the answer to that question. Yeah, I think there’s a couple things, I might want to bring her back out and shoot a couple more things. But it’s looking really good. We definitely have a first cut. But, you know, just trying to make it perfect.

MGS: Picture is not locked, as they say?

KS: Picture is not locked, no, no.

MGS: Well, best of luck to you on that film.

KS: Thanks.

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MGS: Before we talk about Empire Builder, I’d like to talk about ice cream. Because I first became aware of you not as a filmmaker but as an ice-cream maker. A few years ago, my wife and I had another couple over to our apartment every week. We’d make them dinner and they’d bring either booze or dessert. And one week they brought over a pint of Nice Cream, which was, of course, your company’s ice cream. It was the best damn ice cream I’ve ever eaten . . .

KS: What flavor did you have?

MGS: Chocolate and jalapeno.

KS: Oh yeah!

MGS: And then I couldn’t buy it anymore. So why can’t I buy it anymore and how did you make the transition from being an ice-cream maker to being a filmmaker?

KS:
Well, this is actually very linked to the film so I’ll just give you the whole spiel. Which is that I went to film school — I went to Southern Illinois University for undergrad for film school — and then I moved to Chicago. I worked with my husband, we shot a movie together. And before this film, I shot my first feature called It Was Great But I Was Ready to Come Home. I shot it in 2009. I was working as a filmmaker but I wasn’t making any money, so I actually had to have jobs. The job that I had at the time was that I was a high-school teacher. I was a high school teacher on the west side of Chicago and I was teaching film and video to high-school kids. So I did that for a couple years. I wasn’t trained as a high-school teacher, they just hired me to do it. And it was great. I turned out to be really good at it and I loved the kids, etc. CPS closed a bunch of schools, as you may or may not know, and I got laid off. All the teachers got laid off at that school. And I sort of was putzing around in my apartment and I took out the wedding present that I got when my husband and I got married, which was an ice-cream maker, and I just started drowning my sorrows in ice-cream making. So I got really good at it and started selling it and that just kind of grew and turned into a pretty successful business. And in 2012 or 2011, right before I shot Empire Builder, the ice-cream company that I had got shut down by the state of Illinois — not because it was poison or dirty or anything like that, we had passed all of our health inspections and we had our business license and everything was legit — but the state of Illinois has these regulations that they wrote for dairy that don’t allow for businesses to do hand-crafted small-batch ice cream, which I wasn’t aware of. So, in order to sell ice cream in the state of Illinois, you have to have factory-grade equipment and you have to work in, basically, a factory. So, they have all these regulations that are written for, like, Dean’s and Oberweis and places that are really, really big that make thousands of gallons of ice cream at a time. And so they came to me and they said that in order to continue I would have to purchase that factory equipment, which is just insanely expensive and I wouldn’t have any place to put it. So, the business got shut down. We wrote a bill and brought it to Springfield and tried to pass it in state Congress. We put a real effort into trying to make it work but it didn’t work. And I had at the time a six-month-old baby and I lost my income from the ice-cream company and we had just bought a house and I found myself as a stay-at-home mom. So my husband, who’s also a filmmaker, had to work a lot more and we had very little money. And I was just, you know, home with an infant and it was not what I imagined for myself. So, even though I think staying home with a kid is a really admirable thing to do and an awesome choice, I sort of felt like I had been forced into it. I remember being on my hands and knees and cleaning my bathtub and listening to the baby cry and just being like, “What happened? How did I end up here?” And I got really depressed. It was a real identity conflict for me. I wasn’t sure where I was at: I wasn’t making money as a filmmaker, I wasn’t teaching high school anymore, my ice-cream company got shut down and I found myself at a loss with what to do with myself and who I was and what I was going to be. So, anyway, I made this film to deal a little bit with the things that I was feeling at the time. So it’s interesting that you brought that up.

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MGS: Well, that’s a perfect segue into Empire Builder! So, obviously, it’s a very personal film for you and I would imagine making it was a somewhat cathartic experience as well.

KS: Yeah, it was a really personal film. That’s my real baby that’s in the movie. He’s going to be four next week.

MGS: And that’s some good baby acting too!

KS: Yeah, he’s really very good at acting like a baby.

MGS: Did he take direction well or did he just do whatever he wanted?

KS: No, he did whatever he wanted. We would just put him in the place where he needed to be. He was 10-months-old when we shot the movie so he was super-happy to just sit at a table and eat Cheerios for as long as we needed him to. It was a little stressful and I was conflicted as a mother and a filmmaker. It was a little stressful at the end when he’s naked and she grabs him and is running. We had to shoot that a few times and I think he got stressed out and cried and stuff because why was this person grabbing him, naked, and running? She was, of course, acting as if she was filled with stress, and running, and I think that was stressful for him as a baby. But he’s fine now, he wasn’t traumatized.

MGS: And that’s the kind of thing where it probably helped that it was your own baby, right? You probably wouldn’t want to use somebody else’s baby.

KS: No, because in the film that I just shot, we had a birth scene where we had to have a newborn baby and make it look like he was being born, and I hated it. It turned out really well but it’s really stressful because they literally don’t know what’s going on and they’re crying. You know, if you have a grown adult you can be like, “Well, they signed up for this.” Like, you know, if this is stressing them out, this is their chosen career path. If they want to act or whatever, they have to deal with this. But with an infant, it’s like you’re using that infant. Yeah, it was easier with my own kid, I think, than with another one.

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MGS: I’d like to ask you about the character of Jenny, around whom the narrative revolves. There were a few questions earlier about what exactly is wrong her. She seems very depressed at the beginning of the film and I said one of the things that makes the film so daring is that you show what’s wrong with her rather than have her talk about it. The cinematography in the film is so precise, especially in the early scenes, there are great static shots where the camera is at a distance from the subjects and it has a kind of voyeuristic feeling . . .

KS: Definitely.

MGS: And the sound design is also amazing. I think my favorite shot is when she’s looking out the window and you can hear the traffic outside and it gets louder and louder. There’s something very disturbing about that. How did you work with your cinematographer and also your sound designer to use sound and image to convey her subjective psychological state?

KS: Thank you. Yeah, it really is a really cinematic film. Not to, like, give myself a compliment but the film I just shot, I think, is different in a way and I almost miss what I did in this film because there’s a lot of talking. There’s a lot of people explaining what they’re feeling to other people. And I always liked this film because it’s very quiet and it’s purposefully so and it really makes you pay attention. I always feel about Empire Builder: either you fall asleep or you pay attention. And, you know, some people fall asleep, which is fine. But you never know exactly what she’s feeling or what is going on. So you’re always watching and you’re picking at anything that is said or anything you do see, you’re building together clues to kind of figure out what is the story. And I think that’s (what’s) really interesting about this movie and something I’m really proud of. But, yeah, I think she’s depressed about her situation. In the beginning of the movie, she’s in Chicago, she’s not happy about where she’s ended up in her world. Some of that we learn in retrospect throughout the rest of the film when she does get to Montana, which is where the movie was shot. When she does get to Montana she does seem like maybe she’s putting a life together for herself. She’s cleaning and setting things up and making things and she does seem a little bit happier than she was. But then when she meets Kyle, she sort of gets back into the same situation that she was almost in. And her husband in the beginning of the film, he’s not beating her, he’s not violently a bad person, but I think he’s a little bit of an asshole and he’s a little bit oppressive. You know, I hate melodrama. In my films I’m always struggling to show something without it being over the top. I think she feels a little bit trapped in her situation, just the way the husband’s like, “Oh, you should cut up his meat smaller.” And the way he goes on about his idea for buying a new place. So when she meets Kyle she finds herself in a similar situation where, I think, he’s really attractive. And it’s always kind of a fantasy to go to the middle of nowhere and find a guy who’s like a worker-guy . . .

EMPIRE BUILDER - Thai Food

MGS: (laughs) I called him the “sexy handyman” right before you showed up.

KS: Yeah, I think that’s totally what he is. You know, and he gets a little weird too. He’s, like, forcing her kid to learn to walk before he’s really ready to learn to walk. But he’s not wielding a gun or anything either. It just doesn’t feel safe. It feels a little scary and I think it’s even a little scarier that there’s nothing really intense happening because there’s no sure signs for her to leave. If she came home and he was drinking and practicing shooting a gun, it might be enough of a clue to say, “Oh, let me get the hell out of here.” But I think what’s really scary in life is when you’re faced with a person or a situation and you’re not really sure if they’re bad or not. When you’re walking home from the bus or the train and somebody’s walking 20 feet behind you and you’re like, “Is this guy gonna try and kill me? Should I run? Or will I be ridiculous if I do that?” I think those are some of the more scary moments in life. And that’s sort of what I was trying to portray with that.

MGS: I think you’re absolutely successful. If this were the Hollywood version, he’d be waving the gun around. And if this were the Hollywood version, in the beginning there would be a scene where she would go out to lunch with a friend and she would say, “I’m so dissatisfied with my life. I need to escape from this.”

KS: Totally.

MGS: But you show it instead of having her talk about it. Okay, I think now would be a good time to open this up to questions from the audience.

You can rent or purchase
Empire Builder as a digital download via Kris Swanberg’s vimeo page:


50th Chicago International Film Festival Preview, Pt. 2

Below is part two of my 50th Chicago International Film Festival preview. The full schedule, with ticket info and showtimes, can be found on the CIFF website here.

Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako, Mauritania)
Rating: 9.5

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Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako follows up Bamako, his great 2006 indictment of the World Bank and western capitalism, with an equally damning indictment of third-world religious extremism. This lightning-in-a-bottle masterpiece, based on real events that occurred in 2012 but which seem even more prescient following the rise of ISIS, concerns the occupation of the Malian city of Timbuktu by militant Islamist rebels. Sissako’s eye-opening film intertwines several narratives, all of which dramatize the clash between foreign “jihadists” and the moderate Muslim natives of Mali, most prominent among them the story of a cattle farmer (Ibrahim Ahmed) whose wife is coveted by the region’s new extremist ruler. Like last year’s A Touch of Sin, this vital movie offers a keyhole through which viewers can peer into an authentic dramatization of pressing global issues that goes way beyond mere news headlines. What really elevates Timbuktu to the status of essential viewing, however, is the way Sissako brings to his story the point of view of poetry — most evident in a stunningly composed scene of conflict between the cattle farmer and a fisherman, and an exquisitely lovely montage sequence involving a soccer match played without a ball.

Timbuktu screens on Wednesday, October 15 and Thursday, October 16.

The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, Australia)
Rating: 9.2

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Amelia (Essie Davis), a young nursing-home employee, is tragically widowed in a car accident when her husband drives her to the hospital so she can give birth to their first child. Six years later, she can’t help but associate her troubled son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) with her beloved husband’s death. Amelia is frustrated by Samuel’s seemingly delusional belief that their household is being menaced by a shadowy monster named “Mr. Babadook,” a belief that is given credence by the mysterious arrival in their home of a children’s book of the same title (one of the most terrifying props in film history). This debut feature by Jennifer Kent is the best horror film I’ve seen in ages, not only because it manages to be scary without resorting to cliche — in itself a hugely impressive feat for this genre — but also because its story and characters are so believably rooted in primal, real-world psychological fears. Exceedingly well acted and art-directed (the disturbing intrusion of a red book into a home that is otherwise color-coded blue-gray is but one of the nice touches), The Babadook is already well on its way to achieving deserved cult-classic status.

The Babadook screens on Tuesday, October 21.

Baby Mary (Kris Swanberg, USA)
Rating: 9.0

BabyMary

If you are considering attending one of CIFF’s various shorts programs, you might want to check out “Shorts 1: City and State — Locally Sourced,” which features the work of local Chicago filmmakers. Among the nine mini-movies being offered is Baby Mary, writer/director Kris Swanberg’s follow-up to her criminally underrated feature Empire Builder. In an African-American neighborhood on the city’s west side, an 8-year-old girl attempts to rescue a neighbor’s baby from neglect — taking her home, renaming her “Baby Mary,” and feeding her applesauce. It is lightly hinted that the protagonist’s maternal altruism is a byproduct of neglect at the hands of her own mother but Swanberg’s approach is thankfully more observational than editorial. Like Empire Builder, an otherwise very different film, this poignant but unsentimental short is more interested in raising questions than providing answers. What’s not in doubt is the wealth of feeling packed into its compact nine minutes, making it a far more rewarding experience than most contemporary American features.

Baby Mary screens on Tuesday, October 14, Friday, October 17 and Sunday, October 19. Swanberg will be in attendance for the first and last of these shows.

Ne Me Quitte Pas (Sabine Lubbe Bakker/Niels van Koevorden, Holland/Belgium)
Rating: 7.4

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With each passing year, I become more and more interested in non-traditional documentaries. This Belgian/Dutch co-production, accurately described in the CIFF program as a “breakout dark comedy alcoholic bromance,” fits the bill nicely. Eschewing direct-to-camera interviews, co-directors Sabine Lubbe Bakker and Niels van Koevorden follow the curious and intimate friendship between two rural middle-age men over a span of several months, resulting in an impressive verite doc that unfolds like art-house fiction. The men in question are Bob, a self-styled cowboy with occasional suicidal thoughts, and Marcel, a newly divorced alcoholic father of two, who are depicted as constantly commiserating with one other before, during and after the latter’s stint in rehab. I’m not sure how much the unusually unguarded behavior of the protagonists has to do with their copious alcohol consumption but most of this sad, funny and strange little movie rings true.

Ne Me Quitte Pas screens on Friday, Ocotber 17 and Tuesday, October 21.


Oakton Community College’s 1st Annual Pop-Up Film Festival

I am super-excited to announce that I have achieved my life-long dream of programming a film festival: Oakton Community College’s First Annual Pop-Up Film Festival (P.U.F.F.) will feature vital recent work by four exciting contemporary independent American filmmakers, spanning various genres and styles. The screenings will all take place at Oakton’s Footlik Theater (room 1344) in Des Plaines, Illinois, from Tuesday, October 21st through Friday, October 24th. Three of the screenings will be followed by Q&A sessions with the filmmakers, moderated by various Oakton Film Studies professors, including yours truly. The screenings are all FREE and open to the public. Any of my students who attend a screening will receive extra credit points towards his or her final grade (see the extra credit page of your course website for more information). Don’t you dare miss it!

Empire Builder (Directed by Kris Swanberg, 70 minutes, 2012)
Tuesday, October 21st at 2:00 pm

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New mother Jenny (Kate Lyn Sheil) and her baby leave their comfortable Chicago high rise and travel to the remote Montana cabin she has inherited. But as she waits for her husband to arrive, Jenny’s life takes an unsettling turn when she begins a dangerous relationship with the property handyman. Followed by a Q&A with Kris Swanberg conducted by Michael Smith.

Shoals (Directed by Melika Bass, 52 minutes, 2012)
Wednesday, October 22nd at 12:30 pm

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On the grounds of a rural sanitarium, three young women search for wellness, as a cult leader (Chris Sullivan) seeks to control their bodies through labor and daily rituals. A slow-burning prairie grotesque, Shoals won the 2012 Experimental Film Prize at the Athens International Film Festival. Followed by a Q&A with Melika Bass conducted by Therese Grisham.

The Girls on Liberty Street (Directed by John Rangel, 62 minutes, 2013)
Thursday, October 23rd at 6:00 pm

liberty

With one week left until she leaves for the army, teenager Brianna (Brianna Zepeda) spends her time packing and saying goodbye to friends in her suburban Chicago home. But during those seven days, she will confront her fears, hopes and dreams as she prepares to move on to a new chapter of her life. Followed by a Q&A with John Rangel conducted by Laurence Knapp.

The Unspeakable Act (Directed by Dan Sallitt, 91 minutes, 2012)
Friday, October 24th at 12:30 pm

unspeakable

Jackie Kimball (Tallie Medel) is a normal 17-year-old-girl except that she’s in love with her older brother Matthew. Set on a quiet tree-lined street in Brooklyn, this darkly funny film follows Jackie’s coming-of-age as Matthew leaves for college and she sets out to meet other boys — contending with life on her own for the first time.

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